The Firewood Association has long since banned the sale of old rail sleepers by its members for the following reasons:
1. Used railway sleepers may contain asbestos. Even though asbestos train brake linings were phased out in the mid 1980’s, some old sleepers may pre-date this time. Fibres from the asbestos brake linings can become trapped in cracks in the sleepers. As long as they are not disturbed they are safe, but they will be released when the sleepers are burnt. These fibres will collect and concentrate in the ash in the bottom of a fireplace, heater or wood oven and they can be deadly.
2. Almost all used railway sleepers are contaminated to some extent with herbicides, heavy metals, grease and oil. When used railway sleepers are burnt, these substances are vaporised, releasing odours and potentially harmful fumes. These fumes will be absorbed by any food cooked with the wood, for example in pizza ovens or barbecues. If these fumes escape from the heater/fire into the room they can cause respiratory health problems.
3. Small stones from the track ballast become stuck in used sleepers. When heated in a fire these small stones can explode, creating a hazard in an open fire or cracking the glass of a slow combustion heater.
Sounds rather dire. Will it change your firewood purchasing?